Earth Sciences Division (ESD) Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)
Energy Resources index image

Energy Resources Program Area

Research Mission is to...Advance the knowledge and technology needed to develop and utilize subsurface systems for clean, secure, cost-effective, and sustainable energy production, energy storage, and disposal of energy-related wastes.


Subsurface energy resources currently provide or enable >80% of U.S. primary energy, and the trend of relying on the subsurface to meet U.S. energy needs is expected to increase. The subsurface is also a vast reservoir that can be used for the transient storage of energy and for the permanent disposal of energy waste streams (such as CO2 and nuclear waste). However, the complexity and difficulty involved in characterizing subsurface reservoirs hinder our ability to utilize the full potential of these systems, and thus to deliver critical subsurface energy solutions.

Energy Resources image 2To tackle this complexity, projects in this Program Area require integration across a wide range of ESD expertise, including multiphase flow, reactive geochemistry, imaging of the subsurface, and geomechanics. Capabilities developed in association with one energy strategy are often translated for use in another. For example, multiphase flow is important in geologic carbon sequestration, geothermal energy, hydrocarbon extraction, nuclear waste isolation, and vadose zone-atmospheric interactions in climate modeling. Similarly, geomechanics and geochemistry coupled with hydrology find application across a wide range of projects within this Program Area.

In contrast to other Program Areas within ESD, the Energy Resources Program Area conducts primarily applied research to solve challenges of practical concern to increase the U.S. energy supply and secure its environmental assets. Going beyond the traditional research model of small targeted R&D projects, the Energy Resources Program Area has been very successful in developing new working models for research partnerships, including DOE geothermal and carbon sequestration “partnership programs” between DOE and industry, and hydrocarbon industry-sponsored “Centers of Excellence”, where investigators from ESD work closely with industry scientists on a common theme. Scientists working within this Program Area especially value coordination and integration with governmental and industrial institutions, and maintain a focus on urgent and critical topics to ensure rapid deployment of promising new technologies.

Research in this Program Area is most highly aligned with the Fundamental Earth Sciences Program Area. With the need to consider environmental aspects as a critical component of an energy strategy, research in this Program Area is also aligned with the Environmental and Biological Systems Sciences Program Area.

Program Area Leads

Jens T. Birkholzer | | 510-486-7134

Curtis M. Oldenburg | | 510-486-7419


These programs directly address long-standing and emerging scientific and technical challenges to managing the subsurface as a resource for energy production, storage, and disposal, while minimizing environmental impacts. Although each of these programs have specific objectives, they share several crosscutting goals and approaches, including theory, simulation, laboratory-scale experimentation, and field-scale testing.

Geologic Carbon Sequestration Program

Curtis M. Oldenburg | | 510-486-7419

The Geological Carbon Sequestration (GCS) Program uses theory along with lab, field, and simulation approaches to investigate processes needed to inform and guide the safe and effective implementation of geologic carbon sequestration. Through numerous collaborations with organizations leading field projects, the program takes advantage of the unparalleled expertise within ESD. Key topics of investigation include:

  • Capacity, trapping mechanisms, and permanence;
  • Monitoring and verification using remote geophysical (e.g., seismic) and direct surface detection methods;
  • Enhanced hydrocarbon recovery options;
  • Leakage and seepage;
  • Impacts on the environment, including groundwater, induced seismicity, and the near-surface;
  • Risk-based assessment and certification;
  • Injection field studies, including fluid sampling at in situ conditions and seismic monitoring; and
  • Performance prediction (TOUGH suite of codes as a tool).

Support for GCS research comes primarily from DOE-Fossil Energy, with additional support from the Carbon Capture Project (an industry consortium), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Energy Commission, the California Air Resources Board, and various other governmental and industrial sources. The largest research projects in the Geological Sequestration Program include: GEO-SEQ (part of our Consolidated Sequestration Research Project) for research in support of international demonstration projects occurring in the Otway Basin, Australia, and Ketzin, Germany; and NRAP (National Risk Assessment Partnership); as well as support to collaborators in Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships, including SECARB, BigSky, MGSC, and WESTCARB.


Geothermal Systems Program

Burton M. (Mack) Kennedy | | 510-486-6451

The Geothermal Systems Program has three research thrusts. The first thrust focuses on developing innovative technologies for identifying and producing energy from “hidden” natural hydrothermal systems. Typically, “hidden” systems are deep, nonmagmatic fault-hosted circulating systems in which surface manifestations have either been modified (obscuring deeper high temperatures) or are nonexistent. Our main research avenues include: chemical geothermometry through multicomponent analysis; subsurface characterization using joint inversion of coupled geophysical attributes; locating and mapping surface fluid flux; and fairway analysis of known systems to better constrain extent and resource potential. The second thrust focuses on developing approaches to implement, monitor and model enhanced geothermal systems. This is a form of heat mining, in which hot rock permeability is artificially created or enhanced through hydraulic and/or chemical stimulation. The third thrust focuses on reservoir development. Example research lines associated with this thrust include monitoring and analysis of induced seismicity (i.e., microearthquakes) before, during, and after hydraulic stimulation; development of reliable coupled process models (thermo-hydro-mechanical-chemical—THMC) for predicting reservoir behavior during and after stimulation; and evaluating the chemical impact on fracture initiation and growth. ESD scientists are also actively pursuing the feasibility of using CO2 as an alternative working fluid in enhanced geothermal systems, with projects focused on geothermal energy coupled to Carbon Capture and Sequestration and experimental-based research into chemical reactions and heat extraction efficiency under supercritical CO2 conditions.

Support for the Geothermal Systems Program is provided principally by the DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Geothermal Technologies Program, with minor contributions from other sponsors contracted with industry partners.

Hydrocarbon Resources Program

George J. Moridis | | 510-486-4746

The Hydrocarbon Resources Program focuses on (a) developing an understanding of the basic concepts and processes governing the storage and nonisothermal flow of hydrocarbons in porous media during production (under a variety of challenging conditions), as well as an understanding of associated coupled processes and phenomena (geomechanical, geophysical, chemical) involved in resource development and production; and (b) translating the development of fundamental knowledge into production methods and strategies that can be easily adopted by the industry. While the Hydrocarbon Resources Program is designed to address all issues related to hydrocarbon recovery (including reservoir integrity and improving geophysical imaging), the primary focus of the program is unconventional resources, such as hydrates, tight/shale gas, and shale oil. Because such resources are expected to be the main subject of fossil-energy recovery activities in the foreseeable future, it is an important and growing component of ESD’s research portfolio.

Support for the Hydrocarbon Research Program comes from diverse sources. Research related to hydrates is supported by the DOE Hydrate Research Program, by international research organizations (e.g., the Korean Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources), and by national and international petroleum companies. Research in the area of hydrocarbon recovery from tight sands and shales receives support from the Research Partnership for Secure Energy America (RPSEA), and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nuclear Energy and Waste Program

Jens T. Birkholzer | | 510-486-7134

The role of the Nuclear Energy and Waste Program is to perform fundamental and applied Earth-sciences-related research concerning the safe, secure, and responsible use of nuclear energy, as well as the safe storage and disposal of used nuclear fuel and waste. Research in this program is primarily associated with the need for secure long-term subsurface disposal of high-level radioactive waste. After being a key contributor to the research and licensing activities for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, the program is now conducting research and technology development to enable long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel and wastes in other host-rock environments (e.g., shale, salt rock, crystalline rock). Examples of research foci include the near-field rock damage and potential transport pathways induced by repository construction and waste emplacement, the impact of such damage on radionuclide transport in different components of engineered barrier, and long-term performance assessment studies on the suitability of alternative repository locations and designs. Advanced methods for monitoring and simulating relevant coupled processes are tested against data from large in situ experiments conducted in subsurface field observatories. Beyond disposal research, Nuclear Energy and Waste Program researchers engage in the seismic analysis and structural design of nuclear power plants. More rigorous and realistic seismic simulation tools are developed for increased efficiency and safety, using modern solution algorithms and high-performance computing.

The program is largely supported by DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with additional funding coming from a variety of domestic and international sponsors. Many activities reside within DOE’s Used Fuel Disposition Campaign which was established in 2009. This program also supports disposal work undertaken by several international nuclear waste organizations, and is engaged in collaborative international initiatives such as the DECOVALEX project and the Mont Terri Partnership.